In Unsettled, a characteristically quiet, yet complex series of photographic works, Nunn, who is well-known as a documentary photographer, astutely takes the possibilities of how one might narrate a period of history photographically, into provocative visual territory. Invoking the form of documentary photography, Nunn relates key narratives by critically imagining onto the landscape and its current inhabitants the histories that have shaped them.
As an artist who seeks to instigate social change and highlight lesser-seen aspects of society through his photography, Unsettled deals with the nine wars that Xhosa people were subjected to between 1779 and 1879 in their fight against Afrikaner and British colonial settler forces. Nunn became aware of a notable gap in the telling of this South African history, as well as the fact that little has been done, to date, to memorialise these acts of colonial aggression and Xhosa resistance, and decided to document the land where these struggles took place.
“This essay looks at the land, which was occupied, desired, defended, lost and won. In it we see both the uses and states it is to be found in today, both by the victors and the vanquished. We are able to imagine the heroism and the misery it inflicted on its actors as they either defended or attacked. We see, too, how little of this memory is commemorated or honoured”, says Nunn. “We see the smug conquerors, and the conquered. We see the continuing collaborations, which have always been necessary to maintain the status quo. We see the beauty, which stirred the souls of the inhabitants and the lust of the invaders.
“Through revisiting this painful past in the contemporary scenes of today, this work attempts to place the present in its factual context of dispossession and conquest.”
Unsettled forms the first component of what will be a trilogy: the next component addressing the legacy of colonial dispossession through “bringing ‘the first inhabitants’ back into the picture by giving a select number of self-describing Khoi, Griqua and San/Bushmen a contemporary face and presence”, and a final component that will look at slavery.